More students of color are graduating, and the achievement gap is closing

The overall graduation rate in Minnesota was 82.2 percent in 2016, the highest ever recorded in the state.

Minnesota's education officials reported some good news Thursday morning: the latest high school graduation figures show that the gap between white and non-white students is closing.

Between 2011 and 2016, the graduation rate among students of color has increased by 13.1 percent, compared to 3.2 percent among white students, the Department of Education announced.

Breaking down the numbers

The overall graduation rate in Minnesota was 82.2 percent in 2016, the highest ever recorded in the state (albeit just a 0.3 percent rise on 2015).

But black students in particular improved between 2015 and 2016, with the graduation rate last year 3 percent higher than the year before. American Indian and Asian students saw slight increases.

All in all, the picture is much rosier for students of color now than it was 10 years ago. The gap between the black graduation rate and white graduation rate in 2006 was 40.6 percent; last year, the gap had closed to 21.9 percent.

American Indian students have the lowest graduation rate out of any demographic, however they also saw a significant jump in graduation rate between 2011 and 2016, rising 10.1 percent after having barely budged between 2006 and 2011.

Education commissioner Brenda Cassellius said graduation for all demographics is a "crucial step in attaining the dream we have for success in life," and said that would not stop efforts to boost rates across all students and close the achievement gap further.

"In order to close gaps, we need to see all boats rising, but our students of color and American Indian students need to move faster," said Cassellius. "We’re seeing that happen across the state, and we need to double down on efforts to help every student earn a diploma."

St. Paul Public Schools had a 76.5 percent graduation rate, up 1.5 points from the previous year, while the Minneapolis Public Schools graduation rate rose 2.8 percent to 67.1 percent.

Closing the inequality gap

Getting a high school education is an important step in reducing future inequality once graduates enter the working world.

The Huffington Post reports that graduation rates are closely linked with unemployment levels, and those who fail to graduate are more greatly affected when the wider economy struggles.

Minnesota has a significant income gap particularly between white and black residents, with the median income for white people in the state standing at $57,404 in 2015, while for black people it's at $35,695, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Department of Education says it has launched a series of initiatives in the past six years designed to increase graduation rates, and has set a goal to increase the rate to 90 percent by 2020.

The department has been offering extra "strategic" support to Title 1 high schools to boost graduation numbers, as well as offering early intervention to students with behavioral problems that helps keep them in class and on track for graduation.

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